The situation about what to do with Randall is dividing the survivors. Daryl takes on the job of extracting information from Randall.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9:00 on AMC.
This episode is written by Angela Kang, who also wrote episode 2.06 ("Secrets") and was a staff writer for the criminally underwatched modern classic Terriers. It was directed by Greg Nicotero, a special effects guru who has been on-board The Walking Dead since the beginning. Together, they've given us another high-quality episode that isn't going to stop people from complaining about all the standing around and talking, but is giving us exactly what the show needs.
This is a show that you savor like a finger or two of good Scotch (for me, tonight, it's a Bunnahabhain 12 Year Islay Single Malt) while you sit back and realize we're all going to die someday, so we have to make good use of the time we've got. It's no surprise when people die. It's a show about the zombie apocalypse, after all. But sometimes you just don't see it coming.
And yes, that's a hint for those who haven't watched it yet. Somebody dies tonight (don't check what's trending on Twitter, either).
But that's a spoiler I'm not going to spoil, so let's just talk a little about what "Judge, Jury, Executioner" did right.
Essentially, this episode is all about the death penalty and the morality behind killing for the protection of the group. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Shane (Jon Bernthal) see eye to eye on this one: their hostage Randall (Michael Zegen) has to die. Daryl (Norman Reedus) has beaten critical information out of him – his camp has at least thirty heavily armed men who enjoy a bit of brutality and rape – and there's really no question about what has to be done.
Except Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) does question it. That's his role, after all. He's the one who stands up and shouts about losing their humanity, about staying civilized, about all that stuff that seems delusional at this point. But he keeps shouting because that's what the conscience of the group is required to do.
Dale's arguments aren't really convincing to me, but I'm already in the other camp. It's a credit to Kang's script and DeMunn's performance that even though I think he's crazy, I can understand his motivations and see the heartbreak behind his position. This week, he doesn't seem to be someone who's just being delusional and contrary; he tries to make his case and even Shane gives him respect for that.
But he's wrong.
There are a number of strong scenes this week: Daryl explaining to Dale that the group is broken (and that it's no secret what happened between Shane and Otis to anyone with sense); Hershel (Scott Wilson) refusing to accept responsibility for deciding Randall's fate; Hershel passing his grandfather's watch on to Glenn; the final moment when Rick has the gun to Randall's forehead, ready to execute him. They're all good moments.
It should be hard to execute a man. And for a second there I thought they were going to go through with it. Carl's appearance was, of course, going to be too much for Rick to deal with, and I can only hope that it doesn't lead to the possible coup that Shane discussed with Andrea (Laurie Holden) earlier. It might be justified, but it won't – it can't – go well.
And while I'm a little put off by the borderline cliché way they're using Carl (Chandler Riggs) this week, I appreciate what they're going for. We haven't really gotten a lot of attention on Carl and how this is all working him over. He's seen a lot of shit over the last month or two and it's affecting him. I was with him when he said that shooting Sophia was the right thing to do. It was cold, but true. I'm with him this week when he tells Carol (Melissa McBride) that it's idiotic to believe in Heaven.
He could have put it better, but he's a child and Rick was right to make him go apologize – even if he didn't actually go do it yet.
But he's right.
To an extent.
And that's what this argument about whether or not to kill Randall is really all about. Not Heaven, necessarily, or even civilization. It's about right and wrong and how do these people even begin to define that in a world where everything has fallen apart and the dead get back up and eat the living?
These aren't new questions for the genre, of course. Every good, serious zombie story touches on this. But this series, like the comic it's based on, has the time and inclination to really dig into the subject and work through it. Sure, some viewers say we're wallowing in it, wasting time standing around and talking instead of going out and fighting zombies, but those people are missing the point.
Zombie narratives are about dealing with these fundamental questions. How do we establish a foundation for morality in a world where religion seems to be a bankrupt concept? How do we keep a handle on our humanity when the world is ruthless and deadly? What does it even mean to discuss humanity and morality in a world with no defined moral compass? This is Existential Atheism 101 stuff and it NEVER gets discussed in a forum like this – on national television with the highest ratings of any cable show on the air.
It's not overly exciting, in a dumbed-down gunshots and explosions kind of way. But it's extremely exciting to me. Especially when we get well-written arguments from all sides that are then punctuated by horribly gory violence. Because I'm not that intellectual afterall. I do love a good gut-ripping.
And by cracky, we get a good gut-ripping this week. And someone we've grown to care about dies an awful death thanks to a zombie that Carl was directly responsible for leading to the farm. That kid is going to have a hard time dealing with this one. Hell, the whole group is going to have problems with this one.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.